Tagged: Malcolm MacMillan

Bowling Green Hot Rods – May 26

After a couple outstanding days in Cincinnati, I was on the move again. And early, too, given the following travel considerations:

– The Midwest League’s Bowling Green Hot Rods were hosting the Fort Wayne TinCaps at 2 p.m.
– I wanted to get to Bowling Green Ballpark before noon.
– The drive from Cincy to Bowling Green is nearly 3.5 hours and I had a couple stops to make.

All this meant that despite more than a week of traveling and a lack of sleep, I was up bright and early on a Sunday morning to hit the road in good time.

The Hot Rods and, more specifically, broadcasting and media relations manager Hank Fuerst, were kind enough to supply me with a media pass for my visit. There was a lot of construction around Bowling Green Ballpark during my visit, and when I pulled up, I had no idea where to park. After a couple trips around the park, I decided to park in the player/staff lot. Players, staff and media members often share lots in the minors, so I didn’t think there’d be a problem stashing my car here for a few hours. Here’s the rather nondescript area I parked:

bowling-green-ballpark-parking-lot

My car is out of the frame to the left, and to get out of the lot, I walked through a gate just at the right of the picture. As I passed through the gate and reached the sidewalk, I got a pleasant surprise:

bowling-green-ballpark-bp-ball

Batting practice was taking place, and despite being a good chunk more than 500 feet from home plate, a nicely worn Midwest League baseball was sitting in plain view. I was initially puzzled by its location, but didn’t take long to realize what’d happened. You can see a tiny green sliver of the field above the tractor with the two yellow seats, which means the outfield fence gate was open. The ball must have rolled through the gate, hit the edge of the chain-link gate to the left of the photo and followed along the bottom of the gate until ending up on the sidewalk. I had no idea how long the ball had sat there, but was happy to add it to my collection.

I decided to take a walk around the perimeter of the park, as per usual, and started to walk down this sidewalk:

bowling-green-ballpark-sidewalk-behind-fence

Soon enough, I was behind the outfield fence and decided to take a few minutes to see if I could find any home run balls. The foliage, though, was what you might call thick:

bowling-green-ballpark-fence-greenery

I looked and looked and looked, and came up completely blank. No worries, though. A construction area up ahead cut my walk short, so I retraced my steps to the parking lot and then followed this sidewalk …

bowling-green-ballpark-sidewalk

… until I saw this:

bowling-green-ballpark-gate

At first, I thought this was a pretty sedate-looking front gate, but then I realized I wasn’t yet at the front of the ballpark. A handful of additional paces later, this was the view:

bowling-green-ballpark-front-entrance

Once I picked up my media pass, I cut through the team shop and was out to the concourse. The Hot Rods were stretching and playing catch, and I quickly spotted the game’s starting pitcher, Taylor Guerrieri, playing long toss. He’s ranked as the #2 prospect in Tampa Bay’s system, and this was the second time I was lucky enough to see him pitch. Last summer, I watched him at the Futures at Fenway game. I resisted the urge to explore the quiet ballpark and walked down the third base line to get as close to Guerrieri as I could. I like this next photo I got. You can almost see the two TinCaps in the background thinking, “Hmm, we’re facing the #40 prospect in baseball, huh?”

taylor-guerrieri-bowling-green-hot-rods-long-toss

As Guerrieri kept throwing, I took the shots to make up this panorama:

bowling-green-ballpark-panorama-left-field-corner

A few minutes later, he was off to the bullpen to continue warming up, and I wasn’t far behind. Here, I got one more picture of Guerrieri …

taylor-guerrieri-bowling-green-hot-rods-bullpen

… and then continued on my way. With activity over on the Fort Wayne side of the field, that’s where I headed next, getting this photo of outfielders Corey Adamson and Brian Adams stretching:

corey-adamson-brian-adams-fort-wayne-tincaps

As excited as I was to see Guerrieri pitch, I was also pumped to see Fort Wayne’s starter. Joe Ross, a first-round pick in 2011, was touted earlier this year by MLB.com as the 12th-best prospect in the San Diego Padres organization. I was in for a match-up of two promising starters today. Mirroring my earlier pursuit of Guerrieri, I followed Ross to the bullpen and got this photo of him:

joe-ross-fort-wayne-tincaps-bullpen

Next, I went up to the Bowling Green Ballpark press box to meet Hank, and up there, I also ran into Micheal Compton, who covers the Hot Rods for the local paper and is someone I follow on Twitter. It was fun to talk baseball with both guys, but before long I left them to their pre-game duties and went down to field level as first pitch approached. I grabbed a seat behind home plate. During the anthem, as I looked around the ballpark, I thought I saw myself in the background of the video board image, as I was just a few yards behind the girl singing the anthem. My camera was still hanging around my neck, so I fired off a quick shot to check out later:

bowling-green-ballpark-malcolm-video-board-anthem

Sure enough, that’s me in the red/orange shirt. There was a short delay on the video board, hence the image not showing me taking a photo.

I’d grabbed this seat for a couple reasons. One, it’s tough to argue with sitting in the first row behind home plate. And two, I wanted to get some head-on action shots of Guerrieri and Ross throwing.

I’ve said before that one of the things I love about live baseball is seeing things that TV broadcasts just don’t pick up. Case in point? Check out the patches and overall wear on Maxx Tissenbaum’s, uhh, rear:

maxx-tissenbaum-fort-wayne-tincaps-pants

The next inning, I got this photo of Ross …

joe-ross-fort-wayne-tincaps

… before my rumbling stomach led me to a concession stand. The concession menu in Bowling Green has a bunch of tasty-looking items, but I decided to keep it simple during this visit. I hadn’t yet eaten a hot dog on this trip (I’m not counting Akron’s Three Dog Night fiasco) and it’s tough to beat a ballgame on a perfect day with a couple dogs and an ice-cold water:

bowling-green-ballpark-food-hot-dogs

I should say an extra thanks to Hank and the Hot Rods, who provided me with a media voucher that paid for my lunch.

Bowling Green Ballpark has a feature that I’ve seen at several parks and absolutely love — bar-style tables for fans who want to stand and eat. It’s a nice change and after I ate my lunch here, I watched an inning or so:

bowling-green-ballpark-bar-table-view-of

Since I was close to the Hot Rods bullpen, I took another walk past and captured this photo of a handful of relievers who appeared to be enjoying the day as much as I was:

bowling-green-ballpark-hot-rods-bullpen

I spent the next inning behind the outfield fence with this glorious view, half hoping a home run ball might come my way:

bowling-green-ballpark-panorama-outfield

On my way back toward the seating bowl, I saw another thing you wouldn’t notice on TV. Check out the dents in Jackie Robinson’s retired #42 sign:

bowling-green-ballpark-jackie-robinson-retired-number

It’s located in the Hot Rods bullpen, and obviously isn’t immune to home run balls during BP and in games. Seeking a bit of shade, I climbed up to the second deck and found a completely empty group picnic area down the first base line, where I enjoyed this view:

bowling-green-ballpark-upper-deck-view

Up here, I experienced a first for me. I’ve never seen the protective netting behind home plate reach all the way up to the second deck, but if you look carefully at the above photo, that’s exactly the case here.

I was up here enjoying the shade in the eighth inning when the aforementioned Tissenbaum stepped to the plate and blasted a two-run home run to right field. It disappeared over the fence right in the area I’d been searching before the game, and I made a split-second decision to go after the ball with the hopes to finding it to return to him. Although I was sitting relatively close to right field, the construction fence blocked me off, so I made the lengthy trip around the other side of the park until I arrived here:

bowling-green-ballpark-foliage

Hmmm. Where to look? Well, I got busy and started parting the clumps of greenery as quickly as I could, hoping to spot the clean, white sphere. It was stifling hot, especially after my long-distance run, but braving the heat and occasional pricks from branches, I soldiered on until I spotted a ball. Success? Nope. This ball had clearly been half-buried in the mud for days, if not weeks, and to loosely paraphrase Star Wars, it was not the ball I was looking for. I looked for a few more minutes and abandoned the dream of finding the ball to return to Tissenbaum before making the long trek back inside the ballpark.

As the game was winding down, I grabbed a seat behind home plate where, in the home half of the ninth, I had a great view as Bowling Green’s Joey Rickard was caught stealing. He wasn’t happy with the call and seemed in a bit of disbelief. Even as manager Jared Sandberg came out to argue, Rickard was still bent over and touching the base:

joey-rickard-bowling-green-hot-rods

(The argument was to no avail.)

As the game wound down, I took a shot I’m really happy with …

bowling-green-ballpark-behind-home-plate-action-2

… and watched Fort Wayne celebrate a win:

fort-wayne-tincaps-win

The Caps scored three runs in the first off Guerrieri and after Bowling Green came back to take a lead in the seventh, went ahead for good on the home run ball that I couldn’t find. Final score: Fort Wayne 6, Bowling Green 5.

I stopped at the team shop on the way out to buy a super-cool souvenir that I’ll share in a future blog post and then made the nine-minute drive to my hotel. On this night, I was staying at the Hilton Garden Inn Bowling Green, which is an awesome hotel. Not only was it close to the ballpark, but it was easy to find and looked really sharp from the outside, as you can see here:

hilton-garden-inn-bowling-green-ky-outside

I was happy to check into my room and find it nice and cool from the air conditioning. I was also pleased with the usual Hilton Garden Inn amenities — king-sized bed, desk, comfy chair, flat-screen TV, mini fridge and so on, as you can see here:

hilton-garden-inn-bowling-green-ky-room

Although I was looking forward to relaxing in my room for the evening, I planned to make the very short drive to Outback for dinner. I always try to have one Outback dinner on each of my trips, and there was an Outback just a few minutes away from the hotel. And speaking of other things in the area, well, there are almost too many to list. The hotel is virtually walking distance to such eateries as Buffalo Wild Wings, Steak ‘n Shake and Double Dogs, a fun-looking hot dog-themed restaurant and bar. It’s also virtually next to the airport if you happen to be flying into town and a golf course if you enjoy sneaking a round of golf into your baseball road trips. All told, it was a great hotel and it’s definitely the spot I recommend picking when you visit Bowling Green for some Hot Rods baseball.

After touring the hotel a little, I went outside to check out the patio and fountain area …

hilton-garden-inn-bowling-green-ky-patio-fountain

… and then zipped over to Outback for a huge, tasty dinner before returning to the Hilton Garden Inn and watching Sunday Night Baseball. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Lexington next!

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Dayton Dragons – May 22

It’s been a couple years since my last foray into Midwest League territory, but with my May 22 visit to Dayton to see the Dragons, I was back. I visited five Midwest League ballparks in 2011 — Fort Wayne, Great Lakes, Lake County, Lansing and West Michigan, for those keeping score — but was pumped to see Dayton, which Sports Illustrated has called “one of the 10 hottest tickets in sports.” More on that later.

The drive from Columbus to Dayton isn’t far, and if you’re in either city, it’s worth seeing if the team in the other city is playing. I noted that Columbus’ Huntington Park is a great place to watch a game, and from the moment I pulled up to Dayton’s Fifth Third Field, I could tell the same was true here. Unfortunately, Mother Nature wasn’t too happy on this day. I’d experienced great weather each day of my trip, but when I got to Fifth Third Field, the rain started to fall. I parked across the street and ran to the suite entrance. By the time I got inside, the quick downpour had all but stopped.

Although I’m always excited to check out a new ballpark, this visit was extra special. I was lucky to get a tour from Brandy Guinaugh, the team’s director of sponsor services. She met me in the lobby at 5:15 p.m. and for the next hour, took time out of her busy day to show me the ins and outs of Fifth Third Field, including many stops behind the scenes.

One of the neat things the Dragons do is honor each past star with a framed photo. Recognizing alumni is nothing new in the minor leagues, but this wall — which is forever growing — has a photo and interesting stats on each guy. I could’ve spent an hour here, but had time for a quick photo before we kept moving:

fifth-third-field-alumni-wall

Across the hall from the alumni wall is another display honoring celebrities who’ve appeared at Fifth Third Field, often to throw out the first pitch. One notable guy I saw was Johnny Bench (the Dragons are an affiliate of the Reds), and it was neat to see him, given I’d seen him just a few days earlier at the Field of Dreams game. Two other ex-athletes were notable — Magic Johnson and Archie Griffin, each of whom owns a stake in the team. The team’s principle owner is Mandalay Sports Entertainment, whose name you might recognize. The sports division of the enormous entertainment company also owns the Erie SeaWolves, Frisco RoughRiders, Oklahoma City RedHawks and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

Up next, we descended into the lower level of the ballpark, where the walls were painted with not only Dragons logos and color schemes, but also the logos of each of the Midwest League franchises. Here’s that hall:

fifth-third-field-hallway-logos

Brandy explained that ex-players often maintain their connection to Dayton, given the team’s avid fan base. As you might know if you’re a baseball die hard, the Dragons currently have the longest consecutive sell-out streak in all of sports — not baseball or the minor leagues, but all professional sports. They set the mark with their 815th-straight sellout in 2011 and are still going strong. Incredible! How much do former players like the city? Todd Coffey, who’s played with four MLB teams, named his child Dayton. And a Joey Votto quote is displayed on the ballpark’s wall:

fifth-third-field-joey-votto-quote

Even though I’ve got a chance to do it several times, it’s always a thrill to be behind the scenes at a ballpark. As I learned about the team, a number of the opposing West Michigan Whitecaps walked by us down the hall. Before long, we too were headed down another hallway toward the dugout, but not before I snapped a shot of this sign to show where we were:

fifth-third-field-sign-lower-level

Then, with a quick turn, we were through a tunnel and out into the Dragons dugout. Awesome! The first sight I saw was the team’s notable video board:

fifth-third-field-videoboard

I mention it because when the team scores a run or wins the game, the dragons’ eyes light up and steam shoots out their noses. But more on that later. A handful of Dragons were sitting in the dugout, and that was the only sign of player activity; the tarp was on the field and there was no batting practice:

fifth-third-field-dugout-field-level

After a few minutes in the dugout, we went up to the suite level where the tributes to past players continued. The Dragons, despite having never won a Midwest League title, could field a pretty darned good all-time team, and many of these players’ jerseys are displayed along the hallways. Here’s a guy who should hit the 500-home run plateau in another few years:

fifth-third-field-dayton-dragons-adam-dunn-jersey

We stopped to see the team’s suite …

fifth-third-field-suite

… and then went out to the seats in front of the suite where I took this panorama that shows the dark sky:

fifth-third-field-suite-level-panorama

See this building beyond left field?

fifth-third-field-left-field-corner-building

And this one beyond right?

fifth-third-field-right-field-bar

Brandy pointed them both out because Adam Dunn and Votto have each hit the buildings with home runs. Look how far they are beyond the wall!

Our next stop was a big highlight — we went into the official scorer’s booth and spoke to the man who has the best job in the ballpark. He’s the guy who presses the button to activate the scoreboard dragons, and he asked me if I wanted to press the “most important button in the park.” My answer?

fifth-third-field-malcolm-pressing-button

I pressed away and watched the two sets of eyes glow red and steam cut through the air. Super cool — I’ve never done anything that’s affected a video board in my travels.

By now, the grounds crew was taking the tarp off the field, and after watching them work for a few minutes, we went back to the suite hallway and I learned about all the notable non-baseball events that Fifth Third Field has hosted. Notable speakers have included Barack Obama and John Kerry, while musical acts including Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and the Counting Crows have performed. Here’s Obama speaking during a 2008 campaign stop:

fifth-third-field-obama-speech

Our last visit was the enormous team shop on the concourse level, and after all the time Brandy had spent with me, she had to get back to her pre-game duties. Thanks for the tour and your time, Brandy!

The team shop, by the way, is enormous. Take a look at this photo and tell me if you’d guess this belongs to a Class-A franchise:

fifth-third-field-team-shop

Now on my own, I made my customary lap of the ballpark and took in the sights. Here’s what Fifth Third Field looks like from center field:

fifth-third-field-center-field-panorama

The next half-hour breezed past and before long, the game began. I watched the first couple innings from various spots, including the second deck, where I had this view:

fifth-third-field-home-plate-view

The between-inning entertainment, I should note, was fun. The hosts were really energetic and my favorite part was the one-eyed mascot, Wink, messing with a Whitecaps player:

fifth-third-field-wink-mascot

I was soon ready for some dinner, but faced a dilemma. As is often the case by the end of the first week of my baseball road trips, I was ready for something healthy. Brandy had recommended the park’s healthy concession choices, but I wasn’t so sure after this exchange with the concession staff member:

Me: I’ll have the salad, please. (Holding out my money.)

Him: I’ll wait to take your money until you see the salad.

Hmmm. The Dragons have a different salad choice each month, and this one was outstanding! It was a little small, but had fresh greens, toasted pine nuts, crumbled blue cheese and a homemade-tasting dressing:

fifth-third-field-food-salad

I was pleasantly surprised and while this exact salad might not be on the menu when you visit Dayton, give the healthy choices some consideration.

After eating, I took this photo of Dayton starter Pedro Diaz:

pedro-diaz-dayton-dragons

And then captured this rainbow over the ballpark, before putting my camera away and sitting back to enjoy the rest of the game:

fifth-third-field-rainbow

Despite the threat of rain, the game went off without a hitch and I was glad to get another Midwest League city under my belt. Fifth Third Field is an awesome place to catch a game and definitely worth visit — as long as you can get a ticket.

Columbus Clippers – May 21

What a day!

You know those days that are long but full of general awesomeness? Well, May 21 was one of those days. From a beautiful ballpark to delicious food to a phenomenal hotel, this day had a little of everything.

It did, however, start early. After watching an Akron Aeros game the night before and staying close to Akron, I was up by 6 a.m. and on the road by 7 a.m. The Columbus Clippers were playing a 10:35 a.m. game, which teams occasionally do in May and June to cater to school trips. I made the couple-hour drive to Columbus and found parking a couple blocks from Huntington Park. This isn’t a park I knew a lot about before my visit. Sometimes, I’ll have read so much about a given park that it seems completely familiar during my visit, but other times, it’s a whole new experience.

The outside of Huntington Park is eye catching. Although it opened in 2009, it has a real retro feel. See this view from the sidewalk? It’s cool to be able to see through to the field:

huntington-park-columbus-view-from-outside

I took my usual giant lap of the park and took in the sights. One particularly neat thing I noticed was a statue and a series of plaques honoring past Columbus teams. Minor league baseball in the city dates back to 1902, and as someone who’s interested in the history of the game, it was cool to see the Clippers giving a nod to those who came before them:

huntington-park-columbus-statue-plaque

Once again, I was fortunate to get a media pass for this game, which meant I could get into the park early. (Thanks to Joe Santry for hooking me up.) Except for staff, who were bustling around in anticipation of the busloads of school kids in the parking lot, Huntington Park was quiet and I took the opportunity to explore. I immediately went up to the suite and pressbox level and followed the walkway out toward the right field corner. Look at the view from here:

huntington-park-columbus-panorama-right-field

This area to the right side of this photo is comprised of two levels of bar-style seating and I knew I’d want to spend some time here during the game. Next up was the open area behind the loge seats on the suite level. There were two concession stands and an enormous bar:

huntington-park-columbus-loge-area-bar

And speaking of the loge seats, I love the way the Clippers have this part of their park designed. If you check out the following photo, you’ll see several levels of bar seats — with rolling office-style chairs, no less! It’s a nice reprieve from standard stadium seating:

huntington-park-columbus-loge-seating

The park was still largely empty, so I went down to the main concourse and wandered out toward the outfield. You can’t walk the entire way around Huntington Park’s field, but you can go around most of it; there’s an enormous open area in left-center and the team shop is also located here. One of the coolest spots I saw was the lawn seating, which is always a neat addition to any ballpark:

huntington-park-columbus-lawn-seating

And the picnic tables give the park a real laid-back feel:

huntington-park-columbus-picnic-deck

Columbus was hosting the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, and when a couple RailRiders pitchers came out to throw bullpen sessions, I went down to field level to watch. Here’s sidearmer Cody Eppley tossing. It was neat to watch a guy with such a crazy delivery from just a few feet away:

cody-eppley-swb-railriders

Once Eppley wrapped up his session and the rest of the players came out to start tossing, I went back to the multi-level deck over right field to watch the action. The top level of the deck was completely empty. From here, I had a great view of the entire park, including this pavilion behind left-center:

huntington-park-columbus-power-pavilion

As you can see, there are two levels of seating in the tower and concession stands and the team shop at the ground level. But don’t worry — I’d soon explore this area. From where I stood, Columbus right fielder Jeremy Hermida was right below me, and it was interesting to watch him. You know how you’re always taught to shift a few feet for righties versus lefties? Hermida didn’t change his position for anyone. I could tell, as he was standing on an L-shaped sod patch. Interesting. Anyway, here’s Hermida:

jeremy-hermida-columbus-clippers

From here, I could smell the delicious smoke wafting from the nearby City Barbeque stand, and knew I had to pay it a visit. The day’s promotion was “Buck-a-Bone” — $1 per rib bone, and while I’m not the hugest fan of ribs, I wanted to give these a shot. I grabbed three and they were absolutely delicious:

huntington-park-columbus-food-bbq-ribs

A few minutes after eating, an usher apologetically told me that I had to leave. Apparently, the top deck of the structure belongs to the group that rents out the party area on the same level. The lower deck, however, is open to all fans. I didn’t realize this at the time — I thought it was just sparsely inhabited up here.

See this photo, which I took a few innings later?

huntington-park-columbus-wendys-balcony

I was standing on the far left, directly below the 328 sign. The group that complained about me had gathered out of the picture on the right. I can’t imagine I was causing them much heartache, but I suppose rules are rules. I know the group was from Nationwide — apparently, Nationwide is not on my side.

Undeterred, I went to the loge area and grabbed a comfy seat with this view:

huntington-park-columbus-home-plate-view

This view here was outstanding, but also responsible for my first major sun burn of the year. Boy, was it hot! I paid special attention to RailRiders shortstop Addison Maruszak. His wife, Breanna, writes an interesting blog called Married to Baseball and we follow each on Twitter. I’m not sure if she happened to be at this game, but it was neat to finally see a player I’ve read a lot about. Here’s an action shot of Addison:

addison-maruszak-swb-railriders

Once I’d watched a few innings from the loge area, I found an empty front-row seat behind the third base dugout so I could take photos without being obstructed by the netting. I’m pretty pleased with this one of Ezequiel Carrera. Whenever I can get the player in sharp focus and the ball in the frame, I’m happy:

columbus-clippers-ezequiel-carrera

The view from here was great. Here’s Zoilo Almonte swiping second base:

huntington-park-columbus-second-base

Recognize this guy?

chien-ming-wang-swb-railriders

Yep, it’s Chien-Ming Wang, who had back-to-back 19-win seasons for the Yankees in 2006 and 2007. More recently, I saw him play in Hagerstown back in 2011 — that was the same day I met Bryce Harper.

I spent the rest of the game with this awesome vantage point and took a ton of action shots. The game was exciting. Despite being deadlocked at no score through five innings, the Clippers had a big second half and won 5-1. The teams combined for 23 hits and the Clippers pitchers, led by starter Carlos Carrasco, struck out 11 SWB batters.

Although it’s always a little disappointing leaving the park after a game, I was pumped to check out my hotel. In Columbus, I was staying at the Hilton Columbus Downtown, which looked awesome online. I could quickly tell upon arriving that this was one of the best hotels I’ve ever visited. The staff I encountered in the parking area and lobby were exceedingly friendly, and when I reached my 11th floor room, I was blown away. The first thing I noticed was a gift bag with my name on it and a Hilton flash drive for me:

hilton-columbus-downtown-malcolm-gift-bag

And while I was tempted check it out right away, I couldn’t resist exploring the room. I had a suite and it was enormous. (I always compare suite sizes to my first apartment, and this one was way bigger!) There was an enormous living room with a huge TV:

hilton-columbus-downtown-suite-living-room

A kitchen area and a giant bedroom:

hilton-columbus-downtown-bedroom-suite

The photos hardly do the room justice; if you want to see even better shots, check out the hotel’s website. Anyway, the bathroom was giant as well, and had an amazing shower:

hilton-columbus-downtown-shower

By the way, this is the first hotel I’ve visited that had TWO bathrooms — I didn’t even notice the second for a few minutes. After I’d taken everything in, and peeked out the windows to look directly out at the sprawling Greater Columbus Convention Center …

hilton-columbus-downtown-view-of-columbus-exhibition-center

… I inspected the gift bag. There was a nice card welcoming me to town:

hilton-columbus-downtown-malcolm-welcome-note

And some baseball-themed snacks! How awesome is this?

hilton-columbus-downtown-malcolm-treats

The snacks were awesome, but I was blown away by what was at the bottom of the bag. The Hilton knew that I was in town for baseball, and gave me a Homage T-shirt featuring the old-school Clippers logo. Wow! I tweeted the photo out a few days ago, and you can check out what it looks like here. I didn’t realize it, but Homage is from Columbus. Their T-shirts are awesome.

But back to the hotel — what a great experience! The next time I’m in Columbus, this is definitely where I’ll stay. This was one of those stays in which every element exceeded my expectations. When you’re planning your own baseball road trip — or planning to visit Columbus for any other reason — this is the hotel to pick. It’s three minutes from Huntington Park and is in the heart of the city. Shortly before dinner, I took an hour-long walk around the hotel to take in the sights. The hotel is practically next to Nationwide Arena, home of the NHL’s Blue Jackets, which was neat to check out. The whole area around the hotel and arena is trendy and fun — lots of restaurants, patios and even a brewery. If you like getting to your hotel quickly after the game, parking your car and discovering the surrounding area on foot, the Hilton Columbus Downtown is for you.

I didn’t end up eating at any of the nearby restaurants. Instead, I returned to my hotel after my walk, had a swim in the indoor pool and then ordered some room service, which was delicious. One more neat thing about the hotel — the hallways on each floor are open, so you can see down to the upscale restaurant on the second floor. It was a neat view, and I couldn’t resist taking a photo:

hilton-columbus-downtown-11th-floor-indoor-view

What a perfect day!

Cleveland Indians – May 19

Outside of Toronto’s Rogers Centre, Progressive Field in Cleveland is the MLB park I’ve visited the most since I started traveling regularly to ballgames in 2010. I saw two games at the Prog in 2010 and one in 2011. (For a list of everywhere I’ve been, click here.) It’s one of the nicest parks I visited, and I was there again on May 19 for the matchup between the Indians and Mariners.

Pulling up to any park is an exciting part of the visit. I always park in the same garage when I visit Cleveland and when I walk down to street level, I’m presented with this view in a few seconds:

progressive-field-cleveland-indians-gate-c

This, of course, is Progressive Field’s Gate C. It’s the most happening spot of the park before the gates open. Gates here open earlier than others and between the Bob Feller statue, the personalized bricks that make up the pavilion and the “Who’s on First” spelled out in giant concrete blocks, it’s a fun place to be.

Instead of going straight to the gate, I needed to walk to the ticket office to buy my ticket. Plus, I always enjoy a complete circuit of any park I visit. After walking down Rally Alley, which was still mostly empty given that it was about 2.5 hours before first pitch, I decided to walk across the grass area between the Prog and Quicken Loans Arena, as I haven’t in the past. During previous visits, this area has been hopping with fans and kids’ games. This time, it was quiet and I took this shot. Here, you can see the parking garage, bridge, Rally Alley, video board and Gate A:

progressive-field-outside-view

Once I bought my ticket, I went to the front of the stadium, where I took this shot:

progressive-field-ticket

And this giant panorama:

progressive-field-front-panorama

Next, I wanted to check out the players’ lot. I’ve seen it before, but this time, I decided to walk up the driveway toward the lot …

progressive-field-driveway-players-lot

… and see the cars and trucks up close. It’s always exciting to see a professional team’s lot, as it’s brimming with amazing rides. Some guys prefer the ruggedness of a truck:

progressive-field-truck

While others prefer the smooth curves of an import — with the obligatory custom rims, of course:

progressive-field-players-parking-lot-benz

Once I’d scouted out the scene through the fence for a few minutes, I continued on my way and resisted the urge to throw this switch next to the lot:

progressive-field-switch

By the time I got back around to Gate C, it was open and I went straight to the right field bleachers. Actually, that’s the only place you can visit right away. The rest of the park is closed off initially, but opens soon enough. Cleveland was done its BP, but Seattle hadn’t begun. I took the opportunity to capture the bleachers and video board. It’s perhaps hard to officially call one video board the best, but I love this one. The look of it is incredible, but the team also does a great job of displaying interesting info on it throughout the game:

progressive-field-indians-video-board

From a spot in the bleachers, I watched Seattle starter Brandon Maurer throw a bullpen session, and then went over to check out Heritage Park. This spot is definitely one of the coolest you’ll encounter at any ballpark and should earn several minutes of your time. I’m sure you could easily spend an hour there, especially if you’re interested in baseball history. Funny enough, I was the only person in Heritage Park for the five minutes I was there. I’ve never experienced this before, but it was neat. I shot a video that I’ll eventually edit and upload to YouTube, but for now, here’s a look at the park’s lower level:

progressive-field-heritage-park-lower-level

Next, I went down the first base line and watched BP from next to Seattle’s dugout. As I glanced around, a sign caught my eye:

progressive-field-cleveland-indians-social-suites

Yep, that’s the Indians Social Suite, where I’ll be spending the May 29 game. Excited is an understatement. It should be awesome.

It was still very early, so I decided to find something to eat. I’ve always been impressed with the food quality at the Food Network carts at Progressive Field, but for one reason or another, have never eaten at one. Time to change that. I visited the Food Network’s Hot Dog Bar cart and had an absolute winner of a meal:

progressive-field-food-network-italian-sausage-loaded

It’s a spicy Italian sausage on a bun, loaded with bacon, onions, pulled pork, baked beans, sauerkraut and cheddar cheese. I could take or leave the chips on the side, but the meal was outstanding. The sausage was spicy and didn’t have that gross gelatinous texture that is common at ballparks. The toppings were plentiful and I was glad I retreated to the privacy of the upper deck to devour this beast. It took quite a while to eat, as I’m sure you can guess.

I resisted the urge to crawl under the seats and take a nap after eating it, and went down to field level. I wasn’t aware of the game’s starting pitchers until I got to the park, but when I saw Cleveland’s Justin Masterson and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez long tossing in the outfield, it made for an even more exciting visit. Hernandez was relatively close to the right field side, so I camped out there and watched him throw:

progressive-field-felix-hernandez

Once he retreated to the Seattle bullpen to warm up, I scurried back to the Heritage Park area, which is next to the Cleveland pen. From above, I watched Masterson make his pre-game throws:

progressive-field-cleveland-indians-justin-masterson-bullpen

I watched the first inning from the Home Run Porch in the left field corner, but decided to climb up to the upper deck to sit for an inning or two. What a perfect view:

progressive-field-upper-deck-view-cty

King Felix was far from perfect, though. The Cleveland bats got to him early and often, and thanks to some clutch hitting and smart base running, the Tribe was up 6-0 by the time Hernandez left the game after the fifth. Masterson, meanwhile, was dominant. He ended up going seven innings with 11 strikeouts, while allowing just three hits.

After a few innings of relaxing, it was time to continue my tour. I wanted to check out the players’ parking lot from above, which is possible from the open concourse at the Prog. From up here, I could better see some of the vehicles that I couldn’t view on the ground. If you’re a car fan, you’ll appreciate this clump of rides here — how many hundreds of thousands of bucks are sitting there?

progressive-field-players-parking-lot-cars

Before this visit, I made a vow to get to some parts of Progressive Field that I hadn’t previously seen. One of those spots was the pedestrian bridge that goes from the ballpark to the parking garage, so that’s where I headed next. From here, the view is spectacular. I’m surprised more people don’t hang out in this area. Granted, it’s a fair distance from home plate, but it provides a great view of everything:

progressive-field-view-from-parking-garage-bridge

While I was here, I used my camera’s self-timer to take this shot:

progressive-field-malcolm

Next up, it was over to the team shop. The Indians have a small authentic game-used and autographed item kiosk outside the team shop, but in the back corner of the shop itself, I found a selection of stuff that commanded about 20 minutes of my time. Behold:

progressive-field-team-shop-authentics

Game-used hats, helmets, bats, scorecards and more were part of this outstanding selection. I didn’t buy anything, but it was a blast to go through the items one by one and maybe I’ll pick something up when I’m back next week. Also interesting was the assortment of balls:

progressive-field-team-shop-game-used-balls

All the walking had me thirsty, so I decided to get one of my favorite ballpark staples — freshly squeezed lemonade. At the stand I visited, though, you could get strawberries added to your drink, which made for a great way to beat the heat:

progressive-field-food-strawberry-lemonade

(And add to the day’s growing calorie intake.)

I spent the rest of the game in the upper deck and I’ve gotta say, the Indians are sure exciting right now. They won this game and the following day’s game, and are 18-4 in their last 22 games. I can see why this city is pumped about Indians baseball. Hopefully they can keep things going and still be playing well when I visit again on May 29.

By the time I got to my car, I was exhausted. Road trips are awesome, but they’re not exactly conducive to sleeping a lot. Fortunately, I wasn’t staying too far away. I booked a room at the Hyatt Place Independence hotel, which is about seven miles south of Progressive Field. I stayed in Independence when I visited the area in 2011, and it’s definitely an ideal choice if you want to be close to the ballpark but not stuck downtown.

The hotel, which is where I am right now as I’m working on this blog post, is awesome. Here’s the outside:

hyatt-place-independence-outside

It’s close to the highway, which means it’s a breeze to get here after the Indians game, but it’s quiet at the same time. It’s a few minutes away from a supermarket and a number of fast food restaurants, but if you want to sit down for your meal, a LongHorn Steakhouse and Applebee’s are less than a minute away. (For the record, I got the best of both worlds — some snacks at the supermarket up the street and a take-out dinner from Applebee’s.)

My room is outstanding, too. First of all, it’s enormous. There’s a kitchenette, desk and a sitting area with an L-shaped couch. (I’m a sucker for L-shaped couches.) The room also has a 42-inch TV, king-sized bed and upscale bathroom area. Here’s a view from the far side of the bed, looking toward the front door:

hyatt-place-independence-room-view

And here’s the sitting area, which is where I hung out to watch Sunday Night Baseball:

hyatt-place-independence-living-room

I definitely recommend this hotel if you’re visiting Cleveland for a ballgame. Every staff member I’ve met has been professional and friendly, and while I didn’t have enough time this visit to enjoy the hotel’s gym or pool, I checked them both out and they look great. You get a complimentary breakfast with your night’s stay and Wi-Fi is free, too. It’s the perfect choice for baseball fans.

And speaking of baseball, I’ve still got a lot of games to see on this road trip. Please give me a follow on Twitter to keep tabs on where I am and where I’ll be, and remember that visiting The Ballpark Guide helps support my travels. If you really enjoy hearing about my road trips, please consider making a small donation to keep my trips rolling along.

Akron next!

Rochester Red Wings – May 17

Way back in 2010, when I decided to visit as many MLB and MiLB parks as I could and start The Ballpark Guide, my first stop was in Rochester. (If you want to read my first ballpark visit blog entry, you can do so here. Just excuse the wonky formatting.) In the years since, I’ve thought fondly of Frontier Field and always looked forward to returning. I got back to Rochester for another visit last summer, but when I was planning my current 13-day baseball road trip, I couldn’t resist starting out at Frontier Field.

Leading up to this trip, there were many reasons to be excited about returning to Rochester. First, the overall selection and quality of food is the best I’ve encountered. Second, I think Frontier Field is beautiful; it’s one of my favorite places to watch a ballgame. Of course, before I got to kick back in the sun and enjoy something tasty to eat, I had to cross the border. Ugh:

canada-u.s.-border-crossing

It’s a long weekend back in Canada, so the traffic was ridiculous. I sat within sight of the border crossing for 45 minutes before getting through, and then it was clear sailing all the way through to Rochester. If you’ve read this blog for some time, you’ll likely recall that I like seeing a few sites in each city I visit, time permitting. One spot I wanted to check out this time is Rochester’s High Falls, which looked cool online and isn’t too far from Frontier Field. Although it’s not exactly Niagara Falls, it’s a neat scene and worth visiting when you’re in town:

rochester-high-falls

In fact, it’s just a short walk from the ballpark. Here’s the view from the opening of the walkway leading toward the bridge over the falls. As you can see, the ballpark is in the distance:

frontier-field-from-waterfalls

I always wander around whenever I get to a ballpark, and even though this was my third trip to Frontier Field, I stopped to take this panorama by the front gate:

frontier-field-front-panorama

I think you’ll agree that it’s a beauty of a ballpark. One neat feature that I hadn’t noticed in the past — or perhaps that’s new — is some old seats from, I’m guessing, Silver Stadium:

frontier-field-silver-stadium-seats

Silver Stadium was the home of the Red Wings from 1929 to 1996. In fact, I plan to check out the site of the old stadium today before tonight’s game.

As usual, I took a walk around the perimeter of the ballpark but this time, I didn’t go nuts with photos. I’ll just share this one:

frontier-field-brick-wall-outside-park

I’m a sucker for modern brick parks, as I think they do an awesome job of paying tribute to the history of the game. The wrought-iron bars and old-style lights really give you an feel of what a park might’ve looked like several generations ago.

During this visit, the Red Wings were providing me with a media pass, so I wanted to get in early and check everything out. A quick thanks to Tim Doohan for the pass; Tim was with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs last season, and provided me with a pass during my visit there, too. Instead of going straight up to the press box, I went down to field level and saw that Rochester had just started hitting:

frontier-field-rochester-red-wings-bp

As you’ve seen in the past, I enjoy trying to collect a baseball from each park I visit. Getting in early means that I technically could’ve snagged a dozen BP home runs and foul balls, but I didn’t think that was very fair. So, in a move that might make you ballhawks’ heads explode, I tossed balls back onto the field when I found them. While walking through the seats and across the grass behind the outfield fence, I came across several balls. Some were partially hidden:

frontier-field-bp-ball

And others were easy to see:

frontier-field-bp-ball-1

Watching BP is one of my favorite experiences in baseball, and I prefer it at the minor league level. Instead of standing in a crowd of screaming fans at an MLB park, MiLB parks are virtually deserted during BP. I always make a point of sitting near the field and just taking it all in. One of the cool things about being in the park before it opens is seeing sights you wouldn’t otherwise see. For example, here’s a member of the visiting Durham Bulls hanging out with Red Wings pitcher Caleb Thielbar during BP:

frontier-field-durham-and-rochester-during-bp

And here’s Rochester manager Gene Glynn talking on his cellphone in the stands:

frontier-field-red-wings-manager-gene-glynn

Back to the ballpark itself: As you no doubt know if you’ve been to Rochester, it’s impossible to miss the Kodak building, which looms just across the street:

frontier-field-with-kodak-building

Much of the area beyond the outfield fence is closed off during games, but given that it was still open, I walked through the grass and watched some BP with this view:

frontier-field-bp-from-outfield

The area around the Rochester bullpen was lined with lilacs, and I thought this made for a neat photo:

frontier-field-view-through-lilacs

After walking around the entire park and watching a lot of BP, I decided to go up to the press box to check out the view:

frontier-field-press-box-view

It wasn’t long before I noticed these guys standing below me:

frontier-field-historic-players-stretching

What the heck? I began to see more and more guys dressed like ballplayers from days of yore, so I quickly went back down to field level and it felt like I’d stepped onto the set of Field of Dreams. It was an odd juxtaposition. When I looked the left, this is what I saw:

frontier-field-bulls-during-bp

But when I looked to my right, here was the scene:

frontier-field-historic-baseball-game-2

When the Bulls wrapped up BP, it became clear that these old-timers were getting ready to play a game. Their umpire, who doubled as an announcer for the curious fans who entered the ballpark shortly after the historic game began, provided some clarity. The players were playing a short exhibition game with 1866 rules — no gloves, underhand pitching from 45 feet and no balls and strikes. It was fascinating. When the umpire called a batter to the plate, he yelled “striker to the line!” The umpire, dressed in black, is below:

frontier-field-historic-baseball-game

As much as the 1866 version of the game was different, it was neat to see how much today’s game is similar — despite its evolution. I think guys today are thankful for the gloves, though. Imagine fielding a line drive with your bare hands.

Just as the game was wrapping up, I returned to the press box to meet up with Chris Fee. I got to know him a bit on Twitter a couple years ago when he was writing for the Bus Leagues Baseball website, and now he’s doing a bunch of Red Wings/Twins stuff for Twins Daily. It’s always neat to finally meet someone you’ve conversed with online, and Chris is a good guy. Give his Twitter account a follow and you’ll be glad you did. We blabbed baseball for maybe 15 minutes before I went back to field level to watch the warmups, which had begun after the clock struck 12 on the 1866 game. Here are a couple Bulls you’ll probably recognize:

durham-bulls-shelley-duncan-tim-beckham

That’s Shelley Duncan, who’s played more than 300 games in the bigs and Tim Beckham, the 2008 first-overall draft pick.

I wanted to take another full lap around the field before the game began in a few minutes, but the outfield was blocked off. As I turned to head back toward the third base line, a baseball caught my eye. It was stuck in the fence directly behind the visitor’s bullpen. Since the gates had been open for nearly an hour, I didn’t feel bad about grabbing the ball.

Once the game began, it didn’t take me long to seek out something to eat. I consider two items from Frontier Field as among the 10 best things I’ve ever eaten on my travels, but I was determined to branch out on this visit. I returned to the Red Osier concession stand but instead of getting the delicious sandwich I enjoyed last year, I got the R.O.B.B. sandwich — double roast beef on a salt and caraway seed bun with au jus sauce and plenty of horseradish:

frontier-field-food-red-osier-roast-beef-sandwich

It was absolutely delicious and I can safely say it’ll crack the top 10 when I redo the list in the off-season. Wow!

As for the game, I was especially excited to see prospect Wil Myers. Prior to the season, he was ranked fourth overall by Baseball America and MLB, and it’s always neat to see a top prospect in person. I grabbed a seat behind home plate with this view:

wil-myers-durham-bulls

The view, however, was better than Myers’ results throughout the game. He went just 1-for-5 and left three runners on base.

One guy who isn’t struggling is Wings first baseman Chris Colabello. He went 2-for-4 to boost his average to .350. He’s also got 11 HRs, 31 RBIs and an OPS of 1.059:

frontier-field-chris-colabello-rochester-red-wings

By the fifth inning, I can’t stay I was hungry, but I was hoping to find something else to eat. I don’t normally eat desserts at ballparks, but I’m always intrigued by Frontier Field’s crepe stand, so I decided to get an order of crepes with ice cream, fresh strawberries and blueberries and whipped cream:

frontier-field-food-berry-crepes

Again, absolutely incredible! It didn’t taste like ballpark food; if I’d received it at a decent restaurant, I would’ve been more than happy.

Once dessert was down, I snapped this shot of the nighttime scene and the Kodak building in the background:

frontier-field-rochester-kodak-building-night

And then moved behind home plate where I enjoyed this view for the rest of the game, which Rochester won 11-6:

frontier-field-behind-home-plate-night

Funny thing about baseball — Rochester cruised through much of the game, leading 11-0 at one point. In the eighth, Durham’s offense went nuts and scored six runs. By the end of the once-lopsided contest, the Bulls had outhit the Wings 12-11.

Yesterday’s visit just reaffirms how great Frontier Field is. I’m already looking forward to getting back there later today for the Pepsi Max Field of Dreams game. It features a bunch of retired MLB legends, and promises to be entertaining.

Thirteen Days, 13 Games and 10 Parks

I’ve said before that there’s nothing like the first ballpark visit of the season, and while that’s true, I’m always extra pumped for my first extended road trip of the year. Already in 2013, I’ve been able to hit four games — a doubleheader at Syracuse’s NBT Bank Stadium and a pair of Blue Jays games at Rogers Centre. If you click this link, you can see a list of everywhere I’ve been and also bring up my blog entry about each visit. Those trips were the appetizer to the main course that is my May road trip, which begins on Friday.

I’ve taken road trips in May for the last couple years. In 2011, I visited nine parks in 11 days and in 2012, I went on a grueling seven-park, four-day trip. The schedule I’ve come up with for this year will be my longest road trip to date but one that is sure to be awesome.

Here it is:

Friday, May 17: Durham Bulls at Rochester Red Wings

Rochester’s Frontier Field is the first ballpark I visited after starting The Ballpark Guide in 2010, and while the park has sentimental value to me, it’s also one of my favorite places to watch a game. Geographically, it’s a logical starting point for this trip, and I can’t resist stopping there again.

Saturday, May 18: Pepsi Max Field of Dreams game in Rochester

As you’ll see, I’ll end up spending a couple days in Rochester and will be lucky to attend the Pepsi Max Field of Dreams game. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a number of MLB legends up close. Some of the game’s all-time greats, including Johnny Bench, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson, Trevor Hoffman, Reggie Jackson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Schmidt and Ozzie Smith will be playing. As excited as I am to see those guys, I’m most excited to see Fred McGriff, who was my first favorite ballplayer back when he played for Toronto in the ’80s.

Sunday, May 19: Seattle Mariners at Cleveland Indians

I’ve been to Cleveland’s Progressive Field three times since 2010, and consider it one of my favorite places to visit. But, as you’ll see later in this post, this won’t be my only chance to see the Indians at home.

Monday, May 20: Bowie Baysox at Akron Aeros

I’ve seen Bowie play at home and Akron play on the road, but haven’t yet visited Akron’s Canal Park. I don’t know much about the home of the Aeros, but do know about one notable concession item. The Three Dog Night is a hot dog stuffed in a bratwurst stuffed in a kielbasa, all loaded on a bun with sauerkraut and mustard. I guess I know what I’ll be having for dinner.

Tuesday, May 21: SWB RailRiders at Columbus Clippers

My visit to Columbus’ Huntington Park will be for a 10:35 a.m. game, which means May 21 will be an early morning. More importantly, Columbus will be the eighth International League team I’ll have seen play at home.

Wednesday, May 22: West Michigan Whitecaps at Dayton Dragons

It’s been a couple years since I ventured into Midwest League territory; back in 2011, I got to five Midwest League parks. I’m sure that Craig Wieczorkiewicz, the Midwest League Traveler, will have some tips for me about Dayton’s Fifth Third Field. (Coincidentally, I’ve also been to Toledo’s Fifth Third Field and West Michigan’s Fifth Third Ballpark.)

Thursday, May 23: Pawtucket Red Sox at Louisville Bats

Louisville promises to be an exciting stop on my road trip. In addition to seeing the Bats play at Louisville Slugger Field, I also plan to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum and, as a huge boxing fan, the Muhammad Ali Center.

Friday, May 24: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park looks like an awesome place to watch a game, and I’m looking forward to catching the Cubs in town for a pair. As an added bonus, this game will have my first fireworks show of the 2013 season and pre- and post-game hitting by the Long Haul Bombers. (Look ’em up.)

Saturday, May 25: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds

Whenever I’m visiting a new MLB park, I like to catch two games, if possible. I’ll spend my second Reds game checking out whatever I missed the day earlier, and I’m excited to get an MLB Network backpack, which is the giveaway of the day.

Sunday, May 26: Fort Wayne TinCaps at Bowling Green Hot Rods

Visiting Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field is one of the best ballpark experiences I’ve had so far, but this time, I’ll be seeing the TinCaps on the road in another Midwest League showdown. The Hot Rods are managed by Jared Sandberg, who playfully heckled my photo-taking exploits last summer. The team also includes big-time prospect Taylor Guerrieri, who I saw pitch last year at Fenway Park.

Monday, May 27: Kannapolis Intimidators at Lexington Legends

The Legends were a focal point of Katya Cengel’s book Bluegrass Baseball, which I read over the winter. Her chapters on the South Atlantic League franchise painted a picture of the club and the ballpark, and I’m excited to check both out in person. Lexington will be the fourth SAL city I’ve visited since 2011.

Tuesday, May 28: Greensboro Grasshoppers at West Virginia Power

And speaking of the South Atlantic League, I’ll visit Charleston, WV, to watch the Power host Greensboro on the penultimate day of my road trip. I’ve seen Greensboro once before (back in June of 2011 in a very memorable game) but have never seen the Power. I like the look of the team’s concession menu and the park looks great, too.

Wednesday, May 29: Cincinnati Reds at Cleveland Indians

Why am I making a second stop in Cleveland on this trip? Two words: Social Suite. The Indians have invited me to watch their May 29 game from the Social Suite, which is a Wi-Fi-equipped suite in which a handful of baseball fans and social networking types use social media to share their experiences. I’m absolutely pumped (and honored) to be checking out Progressive Field from this vantage point and will have more details as they become available. It should be a real highlight and I’m considering live blogging the day to share the entire adventure with you. Anyone else watched a game from the Social Suite? I’d love to hear your recollections.

So, a pretty good-looking two weeks, huh? And when the sun sets on my road trip …

progressive-field-sunset

… I’ll have seen 13 games in 10 parks in 13 days. This means that by the end of the road trip, I’ll have seen 75 games at 49 parks since starting The Ballpark Guide in 2010. Wow!

I’ll be tweeting through the trip and blogging as close to daily as I can manage. I’ll be staying in some neat hotels and checking out some cool tourist attractions, too. To keep on top of my travels, please follow me on Twitter. And if you enjoy following my adventures or have used The Ballpark Guide to improve your baseball road trip experiences, please consider making a small donation to support my trips. Otherwise, I really appreciate your hits on my website and blog.

Four more sleeps ….

Toronto Blue Jays – April 18

The day of my first Blue Jays game of 2013 was long, but awesome. It included an exceptional hotel, tasty chicken wings, fun explorations of Rogers Centre and a ball during batting practice.  That’s the Cole’s Notes version, but if you want to read, oh, about 3,000 more words on the day, please take a look at this link.

I wasn’t hoping to top Day 1 on Day 2, which would again feature Toronto hosting the Chicago White Sox. Instead, my priorities were to write the giant entry you might’ve previously read, wander around my hotel a bit more and enjoy the Jays game that night.

If you read my previous post, you’ll know that I stayed at the Westin Harbour Castle. I described the outstanding view and the treats that greeted me when I arrived in my room, but as for the room, here’s what the TV stand and desk area looked like:

westin-harbour-castle-toronto-room

And here’s a shot from next to the bed — the door you see at the right of the photo isn’t the front door; that’s down a hallway that’s out of sight:

westin-harbour-castle-room

To be honest, my photos hardly do the room justice. If you want to check out the hotel’s official photos, you can click this link.

I’ll wrap up my thoughts on the Westin Harbour Castle by sharing a few final points. It’s certainly one of the top couple hotels I’ve ever visited, and everything about the stay was remarkable. The view and room were wonderful, of course, but the professionalism and courtesy exemplified by every hotel employee I met was notable. At some hotels, the front-desk clerk acts inconvenienced when you check in. Here, I was greeted warmly by everyone I met and truly made to feel special. The Westin Harbour Castle will unquestionably be the hotel I pick during my next visit to Toronto, whenever that may be. I strongly encourage you to make the same choice. A special thanks to Valerie, Bin and Emile for taking the time to say hello and ensure my stay was a perfect one.

In fact, if you plan to visit Toronto this year to watch the Jays in action, there’s an extra reason to choose the Westin. Buy your event tickets in advance and when you call to make a reservation between now and September 2, 2013, mention that you’ve got tickets to a game and you’ll get a special rate as part of the hotel’s Special Toronto Events and Sports Games Offer.

I spent much of the day blogging, but by mid-afternoon, I was wrapped up and wanted to take a short walk outside to see if I could tell which was my 31st-floor room from the park below. It turns out that I had no such luck, but here’s the outside of the hotel:

westin-harbour-castle-outside-view

About 4:30 p.m., I packed up and made the walk over to Rogers Centre again. I decided to take a different route to the stadium this time, and I was rewarded with a cool angle that I’ve never seen as I approached:

rogers-centre-outside-view

There were a handful of people around, but given that the Maple Leafs were also playing that night, the crowds remained thin all evening. After buying my ticket, I took my usual ticket shot:

rogers-centre-blue-jays-ticket

As you can see, I decided to get a 100 Level outfield ticket this time. I stood a heck of a lot during the previous day’s game, and since I’d already explored Rogers Centre extensively, I wanted to spend some time just sitting and enjoying the action on the field. To mix things up, I decided to enter at Gate 4, which is largely unremarkable except for the view if you turn 180 degrees from the gate:

rogers-centre-cn-tower-base-view

Here I am at Gate 4 — if you look closely, you’ll see my in the reflection on the door:

rogers-centre-gate-4-malcolm

Part of the reason I picked Gate 4 is because it enters into the stadium’s 200 Level, unlike my usual entry point at Gate 11. I had success getting a batting practice ball in the 200s a day earlier, and wanted to see if I could get another one. When I entered the 200 Level seats, I was the only fan in the area:

rogers-centre-200-level-seats-empty

Unfortunately, there were no balls to be had, likely because the ushers had collected them before I got there or perhaps because no balls had reached the second deck. I didn’t stay in the area for long. After taking this shot through the left field foul pole (or, more appropriately, foul net) …

rogers-centre-right-field-foul-pole-net

… I zipped down to field level on the visitors’ side, where I had a close-up view of guys like Adam Dunn:

rogers-centre-adam-dunn-white-sox

And manager Robin Ventura and assistant hitting coach Harold Baines:

rogers-centre-chicago-white-sox-ventura-baines

Once BP wrapped up, I took a quick panorama of the view from behind home plate:

rogers-centre-home-plate-panorama

By now, it was time to eat. I’d had sushi for lunch, and while it was delicious, it’s not the type of food that keeps you full forever. This time, I pledged to try something different, and checked out the King Club Carving Table bar area, where I bought a Budweiser-braised top sirloin sandwich:

rogers-centre-food-budwesier-braised-beef-sandwich

It was delicious, but was it good enough to crack my all-time top 10? I don’t think so, but it had a generous serving of tender beef, an onion bun, caramelized onions and horseradish, plus the Bud BBQ sauce. As you might’ve noticed from the above photo, I ate lunch in the outfield and as soon as I downed the last bite, I made my way over to the seats above Toronto’s bullpen where I watched R.A. Dickey warming up:

blue-jays-ra-dickey-warming-up-bullpen

Just before the anthems, I found a 100 Level section in left-center where I could look up to my left and see people in the new 200 Level Outfield Patio:

rogers-centre-200-level-outfield-deck

And when I looked over to my right, I had this view of Toronto’s bullpen staff:

rogers-centre-blue-jays-bullpen

Now, I don’t pretend to be a scout, unlike many baseball fans on Twitter, but Dickey looked awesome during his warmup. He was shaky in two of his first three starts of the season, but he was doing an excellent job at keeping the ball down while warming up with Henry Blanco and I wanted to see if my observation carried over into his start. Sure enough, he was on. Dickey struck out the first two batters he faced, two more in the second inning and had seven Ks while allowing just two hits in his six innings of work. It was the type of performance that should’ve carried Dickey to a complete-game win, but he exited with tightness in his throwing shoulder — yikes. As you can see here, the situation attracted a crowd:

rogers-centre-ra-dickey-shoulder-stiffness-mound-visit

Remember how I talked about new Jays shortstop Munenori Kawasaki in yesterday’s post? I was keeping a close eye on him again. He continued to stretch between virtually every pitch. I like this photo, which shows Emilio Bonifacio, Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie shooting the breeze while relief pitcher Aaron Loup warms up … all while Kawasaki is, you guessed it, stretching some more:

munenori-kawasaki-stretching

When he wasn’t stretching, he was very animated at shortstop. After each out, he bowed to outfielders Bonifacio and Melky Cabrera …

munenori-kawasaki-bow

… and then struck a pose indicating the out:

munenori-kawasaki-two-outs-sign

He was very entertaining to watch, and while the Jays weren’t quite as exciting (what with their four hits and all), they still managed a 3-1 win:

rogers-centre-blue-jays-win

When I got back to my hotel, I snapped this shot of the city, which shows the Air Canada Centre and plenty of traffic given that the two teams play just a few blocks from each other:

toronto-night-view-from-westin

All in all, it was two awesome days for me and I’m glad to have visited Rogers Centre again. My next trip will be the opposite of a quick two-day event to familiar territory. I’m just putting the finishing touches on it, but I can tell you it will likely begin May 17. I’ll have details soon. Thanks for reading!